ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
Your phone has been stolen and a find-my-phone app located it. What can you do next?
Well, it happened to me.
Lots of people get lucky and have an honest person return a lost cellphone to the rightful owner.
But I’m not alone among those who’ve had their phones stolen or lost, with the finder not turning out to be a Good Samaritan.
While those find-a-phone apps are handy, they aren’t guaranteed to reunite you and your phone, as I found out.
Imagine you’re watching your phone on a map heading down beside your local pizza place and stopping at a house — somebody may have stolen your phone and you’re watching them get away with it. If the phone is showing it’s at a certain location, you can try to retrieve it yourself or contact the police. But what happens once you get to the doorstep of who allegedly stole it?
It’s a frustrating situation I experienced recently.
I was out for the evening and my phone went missing from my jacket pocket.
When the phone was showing on Find My Android at a house in the Goulds area of St. John’s, an RNC officer and I knocked on the door. With the car in the driveway and the house lights on, all signs pointed to someone being home. Nonetheless, the knocks went unanswered.
That’s where the story ends and the struggle begins.
I didn’t get my phone back, and the next day the phone died, so the police could no longer track it. Gone are all my photos and contacts. I had to rely on the kindness of a friend, who gave me their old phone, and I had to pay off a contract on a month-old phone.
Police were unable to act without proof of the phone on the property, even though the location was showing on the app. And it’s because of the apps’ limitations, which some may not know about.
Find-my-phone apps use GPS, cellphone towers and nearby Wi-Fi networks to pinpoint your phone’s location, but to be able to use those services a user must have their location services turned on beforehand.
The location of your phone through GPS is also not completely accurate. It can be accurate up to 20 metres for Find My Android, and Find My iPhone has a range of accuracy settings. The apps are only as accurate as you set your GPS location services, which can still be stunted by being around tall buildings, heavily wooded areas and parking garages.
Find-my-phone apps may be able to find your phone, but they can’t ensure you get it back.
James Cadigan, RNC media relations officer, is a daily user of cellphone apps, and Find My Phone, in particular, has made its way into policing.
“We will use information received from complainants. If it’s coming from an app that is coming from their phone, like Find My iPhone, of course, we will take that information into consideration in the course of our investigation,” Cadigan said.
But just because the information is there for you doesn’t mean you should take the vigilante approach and find your phone-napper by yourself.
“We encourage the public to contact the RNC to provide us with the information you have obtained so that we can investigate these matters,” Cadigan said.
The police can use the app as an information-gathering tool, but how far it helps in an investigation depends on the case. They also need to collect more evidence, as these apps can be inaccurate.
Hope is not lost like the signal on your phone in the dead zone though. As long as the phone is trackable, police will use that information toward an investigation and possible criminal charge.
“We have used these apps in the course of investigations in the past,” Cadigan said.
But after the phone is dead or shut off by whoever might have stolen it, the app can no longer track the phone, and neither can the police.
The app may not be the saviour of stolen phones just yet, but with technology ever-changing, who knows what may happen.
Turn on remote tracking like find-my-phone apps beforehand.
Contact your network carrier to lock your phone when it’s lost before any charges occur.
Add a lock to your home screen; for extra security use fingerprint lock.
Back up your phone frequently so you do not lose important data.
Put lock screen message in place to display when lost, if your phone gives the option.
Check your social media and online accounts for activity after it’s been lost.
Change your passwords if your phone is missing.